There's a new sound coming out of Vancouver from a retro source.
It's "ØVERFLØW: Vancouver's Chiptune Showcase", the first live all-chiptune music show the city has ever seen ... or heard.
The chiptune genre grew out of video game music, but took things to the next level and has become a musical art form of its own all over the world, using various game consoles like the Nintendo and Commodore 64.
One of the musicians at the show will be Bryan C., who goes by the stage name bryface. He composes music via a GameBoy, which he says, for all intents and purposes, works like any classic Game Boy.
"The difference here is that instead of a game, I load in custom software that allows you to use the GameBoy as a sequencer to arrange music directly within the GameBoy itself," he explains. "It's a front-end for plotting notes, patterns of notes and entire sequences of notes and chain them together into songs."
The GameBoy was never known for a complex palette of notes to work with, but bryface uses this to his advantage. "The original developers of the GameBoy as a hardware platform had modest expectations of what the sound hardware could do, as long as it could play a few notes to convey things like harmony and rhythm, that was fine," he explains. "Nowadays a lot of chiptune artists try to take a maximalist approach to this sound. Partly because tools have become better and composers can write music that's a lot more complex than what was possible back in the day. The other element, if we're talking about a GameBoy specifically, you could only play four tones at a time, just enough to play a full chord, but the limitations allow artists to think about ways which to convey musical concepts in a way that they took for granted if you had regular audio software like ProTools."
An example of this, bryface explains, is liberal use of arpeggios. "What people resorted to was to just alternate very quickly between notes to give the impression of a chord progression. The limitations give form to the sound aesthetically, but it's also a necessity, so that people can write music of a complexity that exceeds what most people are used to."
Two games that were a big inspiration to bryface are Kirby's Dreamland, "you could really tell there are some classical and progressive influences, the Japanese had a real fascination of jazzy stylings at the time," he says. "The other example, there's a composer called Hip Tanaka, he composed the music for Metroid, I've met him, he performs as a chip artist, he was known for subverting the notion that when you write game music, it has to be happy and uppity, if you remember the Metroid music, it was dark and foreboding, just single notes that reverberate in your mind."
bryface has traveled around the world, from Tokyo to New York, to London, Melbourne, San Francisco, and Seattle, studying chiptune shows and their scenes. He's bringing what he's learned back to Vancouver. He says he has been getting the word out about the scene through networking events and so far, he says he's watched it thrive.
"Partly because of circumstance, I think what you'll find compared to other development scenes in other cities, is that Vancouver's is quite large, partly due to industry movements, I'd venture to guess a lot of them used to work for larger game companies," he says. "Naturally, this leaves you with a community of people with this amazing range of skills, but no outlet to exercise them. If you worked in the game industry, you would be inclined to start something on your own, I think that's what gave rise to this vibrant scene."
Above all else, bryface just wants to get you dancing. It's called show #000 because bryface and the other musicians hope it will be the first show of many.
You can hear more of bryface through his Bandcamp page.
You can catch "ØVERFLØW: Vancouver's Chiptune Showcase" Monday, September 26th at the Fox Cabaret (in the projection room) on Main Street.